In fact, his course—Systems’ Perspectives on Bioresources, the second of the graduate school, kicked off 18 March—is designed to do just that: Help students understand "why their research is important", where it fits in the larger perspective of biorefinery and, not least, answer questions such as, "How much does it cost?" and 'What focus and direction should I give my research to make sure the results can be taken into use?', said Lundgren, who is an associate professor at the Luleå University of Technology (LTU) in Sweden.
The course is the second of two which are modeled closely on the Bio4Energy research environment, which aims to develop methods and tools for biorefinery production based on woody materials or organic waste, covering the entire product value chain from designing optimally-suited feedstock, to making biofuels, "green" chemicals and bio-based materials, and to checking that processes and products are sustainable and energy efficient, in a closed-loop system were raw materials are renewable and polluting emissions removed.
Learning to do the 'real thing'
Apart from teaching students how to apply system analysis on their own research, Lundgren and colleagues also want to assist students in making the transition to working life by giving them group or individual assignments which correspond to current needs for research or to calls for research proposals.
"As the examination—instead of writing an end-of-course report—they will write something which will be useful in their future research, such as an application [for research funding], a manuscript for a scientific article or a chapter in their doctoral thesis", said Lundgren. Having used the trick previously in teaching, he said sometimes the applications which students turn out are so well researched and worded that they may be submitted in response to an open call by research funding agencies.
... together with others
The Systems' Perspectives on Bioresources course also gives student researchers a chance to put to the test their ability to work together with others. It does so by encouraging cross-collaboration between research groups based at different universities, research institutes or in industry.
"This has not been altogether easy", Lundgren said, offering an example. If a student researcher's task is to perfect a certain type of membrane designed to separate out undesirable emissions from a biorefinery process, he or she needs to know not only why this is important, but what other aspects of the process need to be adjusted for the whole of the process to work smoothly and, not least, be one to hold a promise of high efficiency and appeal to industry.
"It is about process improvements and better resource efficiency", Lundgren decided, adding; "I hope those who attended have been awakened" to the need to see the bigger picture.
Inspiration from some of the best
Now that the first week of lectures and discussions has come to an end, the students' independent work is set to start in earnest as they prepare to present their respective project outcomes in connection with an oral examination, 9 June at the LTU.
"This is a unique course and the students seem to like it, but we don’t know until we have done an evaluation which we do will now", Lundgren said.
Systems' Perspectives on Bioresources: Lecturers
Michael Martin, University of Lindköping
Robert Lundmark, Luleå University of Technology (LTU) - Bio4Energy
Kentaro Umeki, LTU - Bio4Energy
Pål Börjesson, University of Lund
Andrea Toffolo, LTU - Bio4Energy
Johanna Berlin, SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden - Bio4Energy
Joakim Lundgren, LTU - Bio4Energy
For a rendition of events in Swedish, see an article on the Luleå University of Technology website.